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The next step for a PHP Developer

TLDR: I'm an intermediate PHP Developer trying to figure out what to do next. Possibly get a new job with that title or just keep reading books and watching videos? or something that I'm not thinking of?

Hey guys,

I'm looking for advice on how to improve and take that next step up to improve my abilities at what I do. I call myself an intermediate PHP Developer currently. I understand programming concepts thoroughly and have worked on lots of little projects and recently much bigger ones. I've worked in multiple languages like C#, C++, Java, and PHP. I am most comfortable with PHP though as it's the one I've spent the most time with and done the biggest things with. I'm mostly self taught and took one class in high school which used Java and I learned a bit more there than I already knew.

I'm currently developing an online application for receiving and processing thousands of pieces of data coming in and processing them according to rules, storing them in a database, and displaying the necessary information to the end user while allowing them to customize the rules and manage specific problems generated. I am coding this as the sole programmer of the entire application from front to back. The fact that I have the skills to do this is the biggest thing pushing me to make some type of change and do something to continue to be better.

I am not hired as a Developer at this company, I am a technical support rep for the products we offer. I just happened upon this project they were starting up and started working on it and they liked what they saw and realized they didn't have to hire a contractor to do it. So here I am.. There may be another project after this one as well that they would use me on for a different function.

I am currently a sophomore college student. I'll have my associates in General Studies after this semester and then continue at University in the fall as a Computer Science Major with a minor in Mathematics.

My questions is this: What should I do as the next step to continue my development as a developer? (interesting word choice.. lol)

One option I don't hate is looking for a job at another company where I would be hired as a developer. I believe at this point real world experience is the best way to grow, and to collaborate with others so that I can learn more. I would also highly consider some type of internship over the summer to gain experience

Other than that all I really see is reading more books and watching more videos? Which I feel like can only do so much..

I feel like i'm pushing myself towards more of getting a new job, though I'm comfortable here and I don't dislike it like I did my last one(waiter...). But at the same time, I took this job as a stepping stone towards where I want to be anyways.. hmm.. tough choices.


5 Answers

Aaron Martone
Aaron Martone
3,290 Points

In today's climate, employers are trying to get more bang for their buck. And though this is fiscally responsible, it's only legitimate to a point. If a Designer is $50,000/year and a Developer is $75,000/year, don't let these people offer you either salary for a position with both responsibilities (but at the same time don't expect $125,000/year for it.)

Another problem with many (MANY) employers is that HR doesn't understand the technical backgrounds of web-related technologies. Many HR personnel fail this due to the nature of the beast (many people just aren't technically inclined, so when they ask you if you're a master at "Microsoft Word", don't be put off)

Dollars to donuts, having an amazing PORTFOLIO will get you hired 9 times out of 10 than having a B.S. in "Computer Science". Don't fall for those schools that say "We have a Bachelors in Website Design", because chances are they are the type of institution to have curriculum like: "Today's less, the <font> tag and how to use it for Internet Explorer 6".

Knowing your limitations is a good thing. You may want to familiarize yourself ENOUGH with design to ensure that you can keep things USABLE, if not all-out designed up the wazoo (like you note, it might be best to leave THAT to a designer).

Aaron Martone
Aaron Martone
3,290 Points

Be careful. I'm currently "tasked" with doing web development at where I work, but I am in no way being compensated for those skills. You don't want to become an indentured slave; make sure you get just compensation for what it is you do.

That aside, if you're familiar with development concepts, I've been seeing more and more employers looking for people who can develop AND design. Do you have interest in graphic design? Like in my previous statement, let me preface this and say "If an employer wants you to do both and only pays you for one, find another employer" Though more rare, a developer who can design as well should be able to pull in significantly more money.

I say this because I know a lot of developers who can code wonderful functionality for a site, but end up with designs that are god-awful and make you want to stab your eyes out with forks.

At the same end of the spectrum, a designer who makes a site look great, but doesn't do anything dynamic has no substance and worth beyond its shell.

To this date I've not found any traditional training method (schooling, degrees, etc.) that is worth its salt or even teaches updated best practices. The web is ever-evolving, and as designers and developers, we need to adopt such a mindset.

I understand what you are saying about being compensated. For me, I'm getting paid my standard rate for my regular job when I work in the office, and overtime when I work on it outside of the office. Which is just enough for me(45.5hrs outside office already, hah) I do see your point though, they are saving money by using me, but that's okay because I'm getting a resume out of it.

Yeah I was looking at jobs today and I see the same kind of situation, the title says Web Developer/Designer, when what they are really asking for seems to be more of a designer. While I know the basics of design and can make a decent looking site, it's in no way my strength in what I do or even want to do. I would have to find some type of job where it's more dev oriented. I could assist a designer but not BE the designed.

I completely understand what you are saying about the degrees and such. They sure do look pretty on a resume though! Experience in the current market is the best way to learn I think.

I definitely agree with what you are saying about HR not knowing what they are looking for. Especially in something technical, in my opinion it's tough to really make a good looking resume for a technical job unless you've had a job in that exact position before. I can put that I studied PHP in my free time for 5 years but that means nothing to them when compared to someone who had a job as a PHP Developer at Company A for 5 years. For me I feel like you just need that first "in" and then you are golden, considering you do well.

I agree with you about the portfolio as well, since I've started college my goal has been education AND experience. That's why i'm so inclined to get a job in the field at the same time as I'm in school. That way when I get out I can put down I did it as a profession for 2 years AND have a degree. (Not in web development or design of course.. too specific, lol. Just plain ol' Computer Science)

I agree with you as well, I may have to start dabbling a bit more in the design, bleh! not really what I want to do, although looks more impressive on a resume then just text saying "this is what my site can do"

Aaron Martone
Aaron Martone
3,290 Points

Take Treehouse for example.

Treehouse exudes not an overly complex design that wows you with design, but instead it has a clean, professional and concise layout that emphasizes soft colors, good typography and other easy-on-the eye design elements. I feel THIS is what you should get yourself familiar enough in design to achieve.

Beyond that, you're not interested; and that's fine. You'll be 85% developer, 15% designer. Just enough to ensure that you are not putting off your viewer due to bad designs or usability issues.